With covid numbers still high and the pandemic very much an ongoing concern, the Yorkshire Ambulance Service (YAS) is under continued and increasing pressure. Yet now is not the time to let standards slip or allow routine processes to fall into disuse. In recent months it has come to light that this may be exactly what’s happening in Yorkshire, with the ambulance service no longer conducting regular criminal records checks for its frontline staff.
Yorkshire Ambulance Service stops routine DBS checks
YAS policy adheres to national guidelines and mirrors the ambulance sector. As part of this, an employee requires an enhanced Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) check prior to commencing employment in a frontline position, or in any position where an employee requires access to potentially vulnerable people’s information. This check, according to the government website, provides an employer with information relating to:
- any unspent criminal convictions, conditional cautions, reprimands and final warnings
- any information held by the police which is considered relevant to the employer, and
- whether or not an employee is on a list of people barred from the profession.
It is YAS policy that these checks should be renewed every three years for some frontline staff, to ensure, as much as reasonably possible, that the workforce can be trusted by the public. But the majority of staff, including those in emergency frontline roles, are not included in these regular checks.
Added to which, YAS relies heavily on self-reporting, putting the onus on the employee to tell their line manager if they’ve done something that might ‘fail’ a DBS check. So if an employee commits a crime, is dishonest, or has been in trouble with the police for any reason at all, they are now expected to volunteer this information to their manager. And, coincidence or otherwise, it would appear that some staff have not renewed their DBS in over six years, with many of these checks now being at least 12 months out of date.
Questions to the trust
In response to this, we asked YAS the following questions under the Freedom of Information Act:
- How many staff in Yorkshire Ambulance Service are in roles which require
a DBS check?
- What is Yorkshire Ambulance Service policy on how often these DBS
checks are completed?
- How many members of staff have had DBS checks within the time period
required by the standards set by YAS? This is referring to the number of staff
who have had either checks or re-checks. i.e. their status is within the time
period set by YAS standards and we are hoping for information on current
staff, rather than historical data
It took a few months, but YAS finally replied with the following information:
“There are approximately 5255 members of staff in the Trust that are in roles that require a DBS check at recruitment stage. There is no national guidance or regulations that mandate the Trust to repeat any DBS checks during employment. However commissioners have specifically requested DBS re-checks are completed every three years for employees in patient facing Patient Transport Services (“PTS”) roles, and volunteers.”
This statement indicates that clinical staff, such as emergency care support workers, technicians and paramedics, do not require DBS checks once recruited. The trust went on to say that, “DBS checks are only completed every three years for those eligible”. Again, this neglects to mention the clinical staff.
The FOI response concluded:
“The Trust currently has 748 members of staff either in patient facing, PTS roles, or Community First Responder (“CFR”) roles requiring a DBS re-check every three years. Out of the 748 employees requiring a re-check, 140 have expired. 66 of those expired are currently being processed by Atlantic Data (DBS) and the Trust is waiting for arrival of certificates. The remaining 74 expired DBS checks are undergoing internal processing and escalation
through management where required.”
So 5,255 staff need checking at recruitment, but only 748 qualify for three-yearly checks – which excludes all the emergency and clinical staff. Presumably, those staff fall into the “tell your manager if you commit a crime” category. Disturbingly, some 10 percent of the non-clinical patient-facing workforce is currently unchecked.
Cost cutting is putting the public at risk
This appears to be a money saving exercise, to which many of the current staff object. A Leeds paramedic stated:
“If a member of YAS staff commits a crime, they may be able to continue their employment undetected for many years, undermining the great trust the public has in the NHS Ambulance Service, and potentially putting vulnerable patients at incredible risk.”
There is thankfully an additional layer of safeguarding for those in paramedic roles, as they must be registered with the Health and Care Professionals Council (HCPC) in the UK in order to practise their trade, and the HCPC investigates complaints independently of an employer. They have the power to remove a paramedic’s licence to practice, suspend them from duty, or allow a paramedic to continue practicing with restrictions in place if required.
“We’ve had some [paramedics] struck off this year for things that would normally appear on a DBS check, luckily they were registered staff so the HCPC dealt with them, but we’re concerned if it wasn’t a registered member of staff, how long could they get away with something serious?”
For ambulance staff who are not paramedics – such as technicians and emergency care assistants – there is no such ruling council, or additional layer of safeguarding. The trust notes that in addition to the self-reporting system, if a concern were to arise, a risk assessment would be completed and appropriate action taken, including via the disciplinary process.
Is the trust relying on a police scheme that no longer exists?
A spokesperson for Yorkshire Ambulance Service NHS Trust said:
“We comply with NHS Employment Standards and there is no legal or other requirement for repeat DBS checks. In circumstances covered by the notifiable occupations scheme, the police would usually notify the Trust at the arrest stage of an investigation.
“We are also informed of concerns via other organisations such as Local Authority Designated Officers (LADOs) and other statutory bodies. As a result, we learn of any concerns at an early stage and much sooner than anything showing on a DBS check.”
The notifiable occupations scheme was withdrawn in 2019 as the blanket disclosure of arrests was deemed to be potentially unlawful in terms of data protection and human rights legislation. It was replaced by common law police disclosures, whereby the police can use their common law powers to “share sensitive personal information with third parties if a ‘pressing social need’ can be established”. The scope for making this disclosure is narrow, and must be deemed necessary to support public protection.
The College of Policing guidance to police forces stresses that DBS checks are “central to supporting a robust safeguarding environment” and goes on to note that “The DBS Update Service allows an employer to identify whether new information has arisen.” It would appear that YAS has not yet caught up with these changes to police procedures and has yet to take advantage of the DBS update service to ensure continued safeguarding.